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Trailer failures and how to avoid them

It’s a Friday afternoon, you’re carefree and cruising with the windows down and the wind in your hair, èn-route to your secret camping spot for a couple of days R&R.

The tunes are humming and the kids are excited. You’re thinking about the perfect sunrise in the morning; and waking to the sound of waves crashing.

Suddenly, your imagination is rudely interrupted when your camper or caravan starts snaking down the road behind you. You ease off the accelerator and draw to a stop, heart in mouth as you realize the whole trailer is leaning scarily to one side; springs collapsed under twisted metal and tyres rubbing hard up against steel, leaving the acrid smell of mechanical failure in your nostrils.

You’re 100km from anywhere and you see your relaxing weekend away drifting into the distance. Maybe you should have had the trailer serviced before you left…

There are many reasons trailer components fail, and most of them can be avoided with careful maintenance and a keen eye.

Here, we look at common trailer failures and how to avoid them.

1. OVERHEATED BEARINGS

greasing up bearings

Overheating bearings are the most common trailer problem. A bearing is designed to hold grease or oil, lubricating small rollers within a housing. Over time the grease will dissipate due to extreme heat and seepage. Without grease, water will enter the bearing and corrode the steel. Then, under load, the bearing will overheat and collapse and your wheel will either seize up or fall off. The two indicators for bad bearings are noise and heat. Keep an ear out when towing, and check for excessive heat when you stop. This is more likely to occur when touring.

Change your bearings once a year and consider keeping a full replacement kit in your car for emergencies. Just make sure you have the right parts and tools to do the job. A practice run may save you a world of time and pain.

2. INCORRECT TYRE PRESSURES

A man measuring tyre pressure

A patch of rubber no bigger than your hand is all that separates your beloved camper, caravan or boat from the tarmac. If your tyres run low, there’s a good chance you’ll expose the weak sidewall to the road and damage them. But over-inflating tyres can be just as disastrous. Adjust your tyre pressures to the conditions – whether bitumen, sand or gravel, and run 8-ply tyres rated for towing, if you can. And avoid low profile tyres, which might look ‘cool’ but don’t offer the same cushioning effect of a taller tyre.

3. PERISHED TYRES

worn out tyre tread

Months rather than miles are the killer of tyres. Rubber breaks down over time, leading to cracking and blow-outs. Quality tyres will decay slower than cheap imports. Tread is another critical component of tyres. You’d be surprised how many people cruise down the highway in their 200 Series LandCruiser, worth more than a small island, towing a caravan with tyres that ran bald some time before the Vietnam War. The thing with tread is that it creates static friction and the more static friction at the contact point, the better the traction. Good tread assists this process. Jack-knifing is not caused by heavy winds or unbalanced trailers (though they don’t help), it’s caused when tyres lose their grip (or friction) on the road and slide sideways.

4. BROKEN SUSPENSION

Broken Leaf spring suspension

If you have leaf springs and you see the leaves spread, or you can see light between the layers it’s time to change them. While leaf springs are suitable for blacktop touring, consider an upgrade to heavier-duty or offroad suspension, such as AL-KO Enduro, if you’re going to be travelling more serious tracks.

Always check the underside of a second-hand camper or caravan carefully before you buy – rusted or worn-out components are a serious red flag.

5. POORLY ADJUSTED BRAKES

Poorly adjusted brakes

Electric or mechanical override brakes are good things, when they work. But they need to be regularly maintained and adjusted by a qualified mechanic. Brake cables should also be inspected for fraying.

6. RUST

Rust on car parts

The old ‘red devil’ is responsible for far more trailer failures than it should be. Steel chassis and components, especially box sections, rust from the inside out and can be hard to spot. Get underneath your trailer on a regular basis and check all the metal parts, particularly around joins and lower sections, for rust – and especially if you live or like to camp near the coast.

7. TRAILER PARTS HANGING LOOSE

A man adjusting loose trailer parts

Trailers – whether they are caravans, campers or boat trailers – cop a lot of vibrations on the road, especially if you’re travelling on gravel or corrugations. Caravans, in particular, have a lot of gear strapped underneath the chassis – such as water tanks, pipes, wiring, sometimes even battery boxes. So crawl underneath your trailer regularly, with a spanner in hand, and ensure everything is strapped up safely out of the way and won’t grab or snag on the road.

 

        MEET THE AUTHOR

Travis-Godfredson

Travis Godfredson

Boating tragic Travis used to wear a suit, carry spreadsheets and walk fast to boardrooms as the publisher of a raft of caravan, camping, boating, motoring and machinery magazines before unshackling himself to spend more time doing what he loves; creating cool content in amazing destinations with real people. Travis lives on the Northern Beaches of Sydney with a patient wife Emma, three bundles of curly-haired energy and an archive of Series LandRovers. He can often be found tinkering with a ½ inch spanner, boating, fishing or 4WDing.

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